After suffering their worst loss to a non-Kansas Big 12 team since 2007, Baylor’s offense has dropped to 38th on KenPom. That’s the worst mark since the Bears failed to make a postseason tournament during the 2011 season.
So, what’s gone wrong with Baylor’s offense? Three things stick out to me. First, this team isn’t put together to withstand some of the injuries they’ve had. Second, they pass up too many 3-point looks. And finally, they can’t offensive rebound like they usually do. Let’s take a look at each of these issues.
The Bears start with a smaller roster for a few reasons. A college basketball team can have 13 scholarship players. Scott Drew used 12 this season to keep the option of a transfer available. Leonard Allen is away from the team for personal reasons, and Chuck Mitchell elected to transfer before the season. Mario Kegler is sitting out the season after transferring from Mississippi State. That leaves nine scholarship players for the Bears.
Unfortunately, Baylor hasn’t played with nine scholarship players in any game. Tyson Jolly missed most of non-conference play with blood clot problems. Mark Vital’s missed time with a hamstring issue. Those two injuries haven’t been catastrophic. Still, the Bears have been forced to play their best guys in garbage time against bad teams and are short in practice. That’s not a massive problem, but it’s not great.
The Bears have faced three big injury problems. First, Manu Lecomte has a left wrist injury. That injury affected him against Texas Tech. His transition from his left hand to his right hand seemed to bother him while shooting and sometimes seemed to impact when he’d fire. Lecomte went just 1-of-6 against the Red Raiders. Even a shooter as good as Lecomte (he’s still made 43% of his triples) can go 1-of-6, but watching the game it’s apparent his wrist is bothering his shooting motion. Lecomte is the team’s best player. They need him to be a threat consistently. If he’s not, this is going to be a struggle.
Second, Terry Maston went out in the Xavier game after breaking his hand. He tried to play against Texas Tech, but as Scott Drew noted at half-time, “We got two absences. T.J.’s not back either.” He went 0-of-3 from the field and air balled his first two looks. A healthy Maston is vital to the Bears success. He’s one of their best offensive rebounders, and he’s a focus in many of their best sets.
Maston is also an excellent isolation scorer. He can back guys down and hit the Dirk Nowitzki fadeaway. He can take men off the dribble too. For a team that struggles to score in one-on-one opportunities, the Bears need this man back:
Third, Jo Lual-Acuil is now suffering from issues with his foot. He’s listed as day-to-day, but he’s in a boot. Even if he’s back, as Maston and Lecomte show, there’s a difference between playing and being back to normal.
Lual-Acuil does a lot of things for the Bears. He’s a skilled rebounder, blocks shots and moves well on offense. The Bears ran a variation of horns on their last five possessions against Creighton. They had Lual-Acuil and Maston run a double high-ball screen on all of those looks. With Lual-Acuil’s threat as a roll man, coupled with Lecomte’s shooting and Maston’s range, the Bears took home the championship:
The Bears tried to run that same play on back-to-back possessions in the first half against Texas Tech. Instead of Maston and Lual-Acuil, Vital and Tristan Clark were there. Neither is a threat from deep, and Texas Tech was able to blow the play up:
Lual-Acuil’s injury was also felt on what I call “the awesome play.” I’ve broken that play down quite a bit, but Baylor’s wing catches a pass on the right side and then looks to hit the big man underneath for a dunk. Run to perfection, it looks like this:
The play didn’t go so well against Texas Tech. This play depends on precise timing, and Maston is late running around King McClure’s screen:
Passing up shots:
The Bears are attempting a 3-point shot on 34.5% of shot attempts. That mark ranks 246th nationally. If the Bears weren’t a great 3-point team, or if their offense were still as good as it usually is, then it’d be fine to shoot so many 2-point shots. But neither is the case.
Baylor is shooting 38.8% from beyond the arc, which ranks 57th nationally. Lecomte and Devonte Graham lead the league in 3-point attempts. That’s a good thing. But McClure really needs to let it rip from deep more often. He’s shooting 41.9% on his 3-point attempts. Among Big 12 guards who haven’t missed multiple games, he’s attempted the fewest 3-point shots of anyone shooting at least 36%. Look at what this man can do:
Somehow McClure only had three shots from deep against Texas Tech. In high school, he trained with his father. Beyond being a stylish guy you can find at Baylor basketball games, he wrote a book about working with King called, “The Shot Doctor: Nothin’ But Net.” McClure was also the valedictorian of his high school. He’s a really smart guy, and he can really shoot. But he passes up a ton of semi-open looks, like this one where Tech’s two players are jumbled together following a screen by Clark:
I’d like to see more from the two man game of Jake Lindsey and McClure. They both came to Baylor together, and both are good 3-point shooters. Lindsey has also passed up more shots than I’d prefer, but these kind of cross-court looks can beat teams like Texas Tech that overload the strong side of the court:
When Maston gets healthy, he should also attempt several 3-point looks a game. He was money from 17 feet last season, and early on, he looked to have improved his range.
Finally, Nuni Omot should also fire more 3-point shots. He went on a 14-of-20 streak from there during the end of non-conference play. One way to get him more 3-point looks is to have him act as a high-ball screener more. Omot played a lot at the “4” last season. He plays almost exclusively at the “3” now. But he hasn’t lost the ability to set fantastic screens with a new position. The Bears should look to get him more involved as a pick-and-pop option:
Baylor’s 3-point shooting could also counteract their turnover problems. The team’s turnover rate is creeping up, and they turned it over 22% of the time against Texas Tech. Over a full season, the mark would rank 216th. If Baylor’s shooting semi-open shots early in the clock, then they’re not turning it over. Even a bad shot is better than no shot. And it would prevent live ball turnovers, which can kill Baylor’s defense as the Bears are forced to pick up some of the Big 12’s sharpshooters in transition.
The Bears were way too passive last night, and that can’t be a long-term problem. Jay Wright often says, “You’re never more open than when you catch the ball.” McClure, Omot and Lindsey are often open on catches. These are unselfish guys that believe in their teammates. That’s awesome. They need to get a little more assertive (corporate buzzword!) when open behind the arc.
Baylor’s not the offensive rebounding team they’ve been. That’s a problem because since 2013, Baylor’s offense has been in the top 25 on KenPom by either dominating the offensive glass, or in the 2013 season, doing a good job not turning it over. As the graph demonstrates:
The Bears’ offense is down to 38th. That’s happening despite their turnover percentage declining (though it’s up lately, so we’ll see if that trend holds), and their effective field goal percentage getting better. Baylor’s gone from grabbing an offensive rebound 39.8% of the time to grabbing one 33.7% of the time. The Bears improvements in other areas have not been enough to overwhelm the decline there.
This is an issue that—like just about anything else in life—is multifaceted. Baylor’s been without Maston, which takes an excellent offensive rebounder off the court. Omot has also declined from grabbing a board 10.1% of the time to 3.8%. He’s playing a different position now, but they need him to snag more boards. They’ll also need Lual-Acuil to improve more. He’s at 11.7%, which is an improvement from his junior season, but without Motley around to grab many offensive boards, Lual-Acuil needs to grab even more.
Some of these problems are a reflection of personnel. Top 60 in offensive rebounding is a good place, but Baylor’s offenses are dominant because they can offensive rebound. It’d be like if Raising Cane’s cut the Cane’s sauce portion in half. Sure, it’s still good, but it’s hard for Cane’s to reach its potential without Cane’s sauce. Baylor might be the same way with offensive rebounds. Find a way to grab more, or watch the offense not be the same.
The world is not over. Baylor basketball has not collapsed. This team figured to take a step back after losing perhaps their best player in school history (shout-out Terry Teagle too) and someone as good as Ish Wainright. Maybe Baylor’s just going to be a team that needs to get a little lucky to make the NCAA Tournament.
I still think this team is a clip better than they’ve been at their worst. And for all the money I could have lost with gambling picks, I am 13-0 and 5-1 against the spread picking Baylor basketball this year. I think I have a decent read on this squad.
This team doesn’t have the depth to survive the injuries they’ve faced, but they’re not far from getting healthy. They have the pieces to take and make more 3-point shots. They’ll come a game or two where some of the guys figure that out. Hopefully those two things will be enough to deal with their decline on the offensive glass.